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A fire that erupted Sunday afternoon at the Intercontinental Terminals Company’s (ITC) petrochemical facility in Houston, TX is still burning and isn’t expected to be extinguished for two more days. As Grist reported yesterday, self-reportedemissions data posted on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s website showed that the blaze had sent more than 9 million pounds of pollutants into the air by Monday morning. “That’s more than the 8.3 million pounds of pollutants released during Harvey in 2017 in a single day. The toxic mixture includes carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, toluene, and naphtha. That’s self-reported, so there may be even more pollution. The data, for instance, doesn’t include the particulate matter — or soot — spewing in black plumes from the fire.”
As the Houston Chronicle reported, the fire is the southern area of the plant, which according to the company website, has 242 storage tanks. The blaze is in a section that contains 15 tanks and the number of tanks on fire has varied throughout the incident. At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, ITC officials initially said eight tanks were on fire, then moments later issued a news release saying the number was seven.
The ITC fire comes directly after a fire erupted last Saturday at Exxon Mobil’s Baytown refinery and was contained by emergency officials.
Why This Matters: Accidents happen but in Texas, the Environmental Integrity Project found that state regulators failed to penalize 97% of all illegal air pollution releases and the Intercontinental Terminals Company’s Deer Park facility has a history of violating state and federal clean air and clean water rules.The Houston Chronicle also reported that the plant was cited for not following federal risk management regulations, records show. The state of environmental regulation in Texas doesn’t adequately protect its citizens from harmful pollution and many of the states’ petrochemical plants and oil refineries have been labeled “Too Big To Fine.“ When companies that make hazardous chemicals treat regulations as suggestions and not laws by which they must abide, accidents happen and human health is put at risk.
Gas flaring was responsible for Texas’s recent increase in oil refinery pollution, but it’s hardly a new problem. We’re less than a decade away from the UN’s goal of Zero Routine Flaring by 2030, but refineries still flare 150 billion cubic meters of natural gas each year, releasing 400 million tons of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants into the atmosphere.
Why This Matters: Companies have historically practiced gas flaring as a convenient and inexpensive way to “dispose of ” gas that was extracted alongside oil, as opposed to storing paying to store it.
Despite over four million Texans losing power during the recent deep freeze, oil refineries released an increased amount of pollution into the air. In a state that leads the nation in both power production and carbon emissions, experts say that failure to winterize power infrastructure resulted in harmful releases of toxic air pollution.
Why This Matters: Texas is the nation’s leading power producer, and to achieve this, the state has heavily deregulated not only its power grid but the fossil fuel industry as well.
People riding American subway lines are exposed to air pollution that’s worse than a bad day in Beijing, according to new research that studied subway networks in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and D.C.
Why this Matters: We hope Secretary Pete takes note because this is an environmental justice issue.
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